Controlling the distribution of signaling molecules in synthetic patterning

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Judy Savitskaya, Fernan Federici, Paul Grant, Tim Rudge, Neil Dalchau, Jim Haseloff

University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Natural biological processes like development and self-organization of populations (ex: biofilm formation), require cells to respond to the distribution of a diffusing molecule. Synthetic biology has adapted acyl homoserine lactone (AHL)-based quorum-sensing systems to rationally engineer intercellular communication, chemotaxis, and pattern formation in bacterial populations. A key component for engineering reliable cell-cell interaction via AHL molecules is to exercise control over the size, shape, and stability of the AHL distribution. We used engineered C6-AHL receiver cells in order to ratiometrically characterize the rate of AHL diffusion in a bacterial lawn with different AHL sources. Using mathematical modeling based on experimental characterization of enzyme-catalyzed degradation of C6-AHL by aiiA (an AHL lactonase), we show that aiiA can be used to control the shape and size of the AHL diffusion in a bacterial lawn.